What has happened to the LibDem by election machine?
For as long as I have been active in politics the only game in town at by elections were the Lib Dems. For years and years some of our safest seats fell to them : Eastbourne, Ribble Valley, Newbury, Christchurch, Eastleigh, Littleborough, Saddleworth, Romsey; these by election defeats map out the decline of the Tory party from the heights of Thatcher to the lows of IDS; the Liberals creamed us as our more, (ahem) unpopular policies were exploited ruthlessly.
In the Blair era they made equally spectacular gains from Labour: Brent East and Leicester South, and most recently, Dunfermline; successfully switching from being the 'anyone but the Tories' choice to 'anyone but Labour'.
When they didn't actually win, you could be forgiven for thinking they had; given the fuss they made. In Bromley, for instance, they came a close second to us and claimed it as a massive 'victory'.
But lately they seem to have lost their way, Southall and Sedgefield were unremarkable results for the yellow team after coming nowhere in the London mayoral contest. And the word from Crewe and Nantwich is that they are going to be beaten into a very poor third there.
I am told by a well-placed Lib Dem source that the reason that they aren't doing well in Crewe is because activists are concentrating on the upcoming by election in Henley-On-Thames caused by the election of their MP Boris Johnson to mayor of London.
Lib Dem strategists are briefing journalists that they believe that Henley has the potential to be 'Bromley MK 11' and there is much excitement about the possibility of... coming second.
Faced with the most unpopular Government since John Major at the nadir of his fortunes the Lib dems are targeting... Henley on Thames? - the ex seat of Michael Hestletine, the Blue Blazer capital of Europe, the home of the Royal Regatta?
I used to live in Henley On Thames, in the days when people crossed the road to avoid you if you wore a Blue Rosette Henley remained the one place where you could be sure of a warm welcome as a Conservative; the one place where you could share your Thatcher memories without shame.
Why would anyone choose to deploy resources to a rock-safe Conservative seat, at a time when the Conservatives are riding high in the polls, in preference to giving Labour a good hiding in a seat they are expecting to lose?
If this strategy is real it suggests either that delusional Lib Dems are living like faded Hollywood stars, unaware that the political world has changed; or that their activists -in spite of constant assurances about 'equidistance'- are only really motivated to come out when its Tory-bashing time.
I'll take the latter explanation.